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Court Notes Snipers’ ‘Reign of Terror,’ Calls Appeal Ironic

Posted Nov 5, 2007 2:52 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A Maryland appeals court has upheld the conviction of John Allen Muhammad, convicted of six sniper shootings in the Washington, D.C., area, in a biting opinion that said his claims of injustice were ironic.

The Court of Special Appeals referred twice to the “reign of terror” perpetrated by Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo before they were convicted of the sniper killings, and compared their crimes to those of Jack the Ripper.

The court ruled today (PDF) that the trial judge did not err by letting Muhammad represent himself at trial, the Associated Press reports. The court said Muhammad’s waiver a right to counsel was “no spur-of-the-moment impulse” but rather was intelligently made.

“The guilt of the appellant was so massively and overwhelmingly established, in a dozen different ways, by the tidal wave of inculpatory evidence that it is inconceivable to us that the elimination of any hypothesized error, or series of hypothesized errors, could have made any difference whatsoever to the jury verdicts in this case,” the court wrote.

The opinion began by saying the 2002 killings created an immeasurable “sense of dread that hovered over the entire community.” It said the fear was comparable to that of London in 1888 when Jack the Ripper killed five prostitutes.

Following its description of the terror felt by the community, the court wrote: “Ironically, it is John Muhammad who is aggrieved at the way he was treated by Montgomery County, as he now complains.”

The court also dismissed Muhammad’s contention that the trial judge erred by refusing to allow him to conduct a re-cross-examination of his co-defendant, Lee Malvo.

“The entire issue that the appellant now presents so prominently on appeal lay so thoroughly hidden and so deeply buried in the trial record that only the most creative of legal paleontologists could have dug it up,” the court said in an opinion written by retired Judge Charles Moylan Jr., sitting by special assignment.

“All six of the appellant's convictions for first-degree murder are hereby affirmed,” the court said in the final words of its opinion. “Jack the Ripper has never yet been brought to justice. The Beltway snipers have been.”

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